In A Flash

Rise St. James marks Juneteenth with a court victory and prayer

By: - June 23, 2020 8:03 am

Sharon Lavigne, pictured at left holding the bouquet of roses, founded the environmental justice group RISE St. James in 2018 in response to Formosa Plastics plan to build a $9.4B manufacturing plant in St. James Parish. In this photo from June 19, 2020, members of RISE St. James pray over the graves of formerly enslaved Black people. Formosa is planning to build its manufacturing complex there. (Photo courtesy Louisiana Bucket Brigade)

After a St. James Parish judge ruled last week that an environmental justice group could hold an hour-long Juneteenth prayer service on land where they say enslaved Black people are buried, Formosa Plastics asked the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal in Gretna to keep the group off the land. The Taiwan-based company has acquired state permits to build a $9.4B chemical manufacturing complex on 2,400 acres in St. James. Thursday, a three-judge panel rejected Formosa’s appeal and sent the matter back to Judge Emile R. St. Pierre in the 23rd Judicial District. Later that day, St. Pierre allowed Rise St. James to proceed with its scheduled Friday, June 19th prayer service.

Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, the day that Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, and announced to Black people who’d been kept in the dark that the Civil War was over and that they were no longer enslaved.

Rise St. James, the environmental group that gathered to pray on the site, has a larger goal of stopping Formosa from constructing its plant. In 2018, Gov. John Bel Edwards said Formosa’s decision to choose the St. James site signaled a brighter economic future for Louisiana,” predicting the development would result in 1,200 new direct jobs and 8,000 new indirect jobs.

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Jarvis DeBerry
Jarvis DeBerry

Jarvis DeBerry, former editor of the Louisiana Illuminator, spent 22 years at The Times-Picayune (and later as a crime and courts reporter, an editorial writer, columnist and deputy opinions editor. He was on the team of Times-Picayune journalists awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service after that team’s coverage of Hurricane Katrina and the deadly flood that followed. In addition to the shared Pulitzer, DeBerry has won awards from the Louisiana Bar Association for best trial coverage and awards from the New Orleans Press Club, the Louisiana/ Mississippi Associated Press and the National Association of Black Journalists for his columns. A collection of his Times-Picayune columns, “I Feel to Believe” was published by the University of New Orleans Press in September 2020.